There once was a lake on the mountain and a community in the valley below. The serene, naturally beautiful mountain resort lay a world away from the grit and gristle of the mill town.
A few people at the resort, who held positions of great responsibility, acted irresponsibly. Thousands in the valley, who bore no responsibility, suffered greatly.
Cowards fled. Heroes responded. Intense grief mingled with inspiring fortitude.
The profoundness of the horror and tragedy captured world-wide attention. From massive destruction came triumphant vitality.
Because the “Great Johnstown Flood” of 1889 is such a familiar story, we tend to take it for granted. As May 31 arrives each year we, often absently, make note of the anniversary then go on with our daily lives.
Every now and again, we should pause and pay fresh attention. For this truly is a great story.
Given its nuances, depth of plot and cast of characters, the Johnstown Flood story deserves to be told again and again. Given the tragedy it commemorates and the lessons it offers, this is a story we need to hear again and again.
Fortunately, the National Park Service has gotten very good at telling this story, and the Greater Johnstown area effectively is conserving and presenting tangible resources that effectively illustrate it.
I bring this to your attention now, because this month there will be several opportunities to experience Johnstown’s flood story through Park Service interpretive efforts, including a van tour, a hike and even a fine-art program.
Hikers can follow the Path of the Flood Trail from Ehrenfeld through Mineral Point to Franklin anytime (for information, visit TransAlleghenyTrails.com). But Park Service rangers will complete the route by providing a guided hike from Franklin to the Stone Bridge on Sunday, September 20.
Participating hikers will check in at the Johnstown Flood Visitors Center and be driven to Franklin to begin the mostly level hike. After they walk through East Conemaugh, Woodvale and Downtown Johnstown, they’ll be picked up again and returned to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
Saturday, September 26, rangers from the Johnstown Flood National Memorial will take participants on a “Path of the Flood” tour via van. They’ll cover a lot of ground over a span of four hours:
Participants will begin at the remnants of the South Fork Dam, which failed and caused the flood. They’ll visit the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Clubhouse in Saint Michael and then follow the water course through South Fork, Mineral Point, East Conemaugh, Woodvale and Downtown Johnstown. Their final, somber stop will be at the Unknown Plot for the Victims of the 1889 Flood at Grandview Cemetery.
The Park Service’s final program for the month, September 26, will examine a different facet of the flood story: the fine art that intertwined with the genteel character of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.
For the club that bore much of the responsibility for causing the 1889 Flood was comprised of Pittsburgh’s industrial and business elite, who brought their love of art and art connections to South Fork. Those connections will be explored during a Park Service program in the Visitors Center Auditorium.
All of these programs are free of charge. However, the number of participants for the tours are limited to the number that can be transported, so reservations are required. In all instances to make a reservation or learn more about a program, call (814) 495-4643.
Yes, we’ve all heard about the 1889 Johnstown Flood, but it is a story worthy of re-experiencing. And what better time to do so than in September, when not just the mountain, but the valley and the Path of the Flood all should be serenely beautiful.
Dave Hurst has written a book on our region’s heritage, titled “Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains: The First Frontier.” To respond to this column or get more information on the book visit www.hurstmediaworks.com.